Can an AI algorithm write poetry? UK to launch user generated ‘Collective Message’

Mar 26, 2021 | Artificial intelligence

Details have been revealed for an AI-powered interactive poetry installation that will explore whether a computer programme can express the complex nature of humanity through verse.

Announced to mark World Poetry Day, the Collective Message will be projected on the façade of the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. It will use words from thousands of visitors from across the globe written into couplets by an algorithm trained on 15,000 poems from more than 100 British poets.

Contemporary poetry from recent Poetry Society competitions is represented, including winners of the National Poetry Competition and Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. In total, more than a million lines of poetry have been used to train the algorithm.

To bring the Collective Message to life, visitors to the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will be invited to donate a word they feel describes humanity or life on Earth. From these words, the AI will generate poetic couplets which will combine to build one unified collective message projected on the stunning cone-shaped structure of the UK Pavilion from October 1st 2021 to 31st March 2022.

The Collective Message project has been a collaborative effort led by global brand experience agency Avantgarde who formed an algorithm team to work on the AI development.

The team worked closely with poetry experts from the Poetry Archive, The Poetry Society and Scottish Poetry Library to understand and refine its poetry output. The team then guided the AI toward a modern and timeless voice inspired by the reference material while avoiding topics unsuitable for an international audience. The UK Pavilion’s Supporting Partner Google Arts & Culture has offered advice in this area to optimise the algorithm.

Computer-generated poetry has a long history, but what makes this project so unique is the collaboration between a large number of developers and poetry experts working over an extended period to iteratively refine the output, as well as the number of contributors expected to donate their words to the Collective Message itself.

Steve Austen-Brown, Creative Producer, Avantgarde, said: “It was fascinating to witness the way that the AI entity came to first understand the rudiments of poetry construction and then to generate nuanced and meaningful lines, which, by the end of the process were almost as sophisticated as those created by human poets. It will be exciting to see this develop into a collective message telling our shared story of humanity’s hopes and aspirations.”

Graham Stuart MP, Minister for Exports and Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The Collective Message is an ambitious project that has been years in the making. Thanks to the innovation of Es Devlin, Avantgarde and everyone involved in bringing it to life, we’ll be able to read a poem uniquely created by individual voices from across the world.

“Expo 2020 Dubai will be a global celebration of human ingenuity, presenting a great opportunity to promote Global Britain, champion free trade, and deliver benefits for every area of the UK.”

The following is an example of the poetry currently being produced by the UK Pavilion’s AI poetry algorithm:

and soon I am staring out again,
begin to practise my words, expecting my word
will come. it will not. the wind is calling.
my friend is near, I hear his breath. his breath
is not the air. he touches me again with his hands
and tells me I am growing old, he says, far old.
we travel across an empty field in my heart.
there is nothing in the dark, I think, but he.
I close my eyes and try to remember what I was.
he says it was a important and interesting day,
because I put in his hands one night
the box of light that had been a tree.

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